I remember the first time I ate ice cream in over a year. I remember sitting at the kitchen table across from my mom, hands clenched around a dish of Ben & Jerry’s and feeling as though I was about to swim the Pacific Ocean. Every bite resulted in a fresh round of tears and it took every ounce of strength I had to swallow.
As hard as it was, I finished the ice cream. My mom cried. She told me how proud she was of me. I cried. And we both sat at the kitchen table staring at the empty cup of Ben & Jerry’s…crying.
Yes, I had an eating disorder. Yes, ice-cream was terrifying.
I know this scene sounds completely ridiculous, but imagine taking someone with an intense phobia of spiders, and forcing them to watch as you place a tarantula in their hands.
There is so much stigma surrounding eating disorders. Everyone has their own idea of what an eating disorder is—opinions formed from high school health class, celebrity magazines, and movies about obsessive ballerinas.
I struggled with anorexia for three years, and even I had my own prejudices.
I, like many people, saw my eating disorder as selfish behavior. A weakness, not an illness. A cry for attention, or failure to overcome my own vanity.
For over a year I lived in denial. I couldn’t possibly be as self-absorbed as movie stars and runway models. So I came up with excuses…
No thanks, I just ate.
I’m not hungry.
I’m just trying to eat healthy.
I came up with so many excuses that even I started to believe they were the truth. I refused to admit that I was anorexic. That I was scared of food and obsessed with losing weight. That my life was a mess and that I needed help.
Instead I plastered a smile on my face and pretended I was okay. I convinced myself that there was nothing wrong with staying up until 2am planning meals, counting calories during math class, or stepping on the scale six times a day.
Nope. No eating disorder here.
The fact that I could wear children’s clothes, I was freezing all the time, and my hair was falling out meant nothing.
Meanwhile, I was frustrated and angry at myself for being this way. I wanted to change, but I was stuck in a vicious cycle of disordered thoughts and behaviors. Why couldn’t I just eat like a normal person!?
Well, because an eating disorder is NOT simply a perfectionist on a mega-diet. It’s not a “phase,” or a cry for attention, or the need for control. An eating disorder is NOT a choice.
An eating disorder IS a serious mental illness that kills one in five sufferers. Eating disorders can affect anyone—women, men, and children of all ages and nationalities. Yes, there are certain environmental/cultural factors that make people more susceptible, but an eating disorder is a legitimate, genetic illness that I certainly did not want.
An article from The Huffington Post states:
The stigma that surrounds eating disorders paints them as trivial “girl problems,” diets gone awry, adolescent rites of passage, or the acting out of juvenile rebels or “control freaks.” Anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating disorders are sensationalized by the media as celebrity spectacles. Even the medical profession, by and large, still dismisses disordered eating as a behavioral quirk and thus fails to recognize the serious psychological threat this behavior represents. Stigma suppresses funding and attention to eating-disorder research and is a primary obstacle to adequate treatment and prevention efforts.
And that is why I couldn’t “just eat like a normal person.” And that is also why I am on a mission to remove the stigma and shame that surrounds this illness.
So, yes, I had an eating disorder. And yes, I have recovered. Ice-cream is no longer what nightmares are made of and there are no more tears spilled over a plate of mashed potatoes.
Do I still struggle? Absolutely. But I am no longer a slave to my eating disorder. I could choose to listen to the voice of my past, but instead I choose to listen to the voice of Truth. The voice that tells me I am a beautiful, loved, honored child of God.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, do not let anyone tell you that it’s your own fault, or that you are weak in some way. Don’t be ashamed of what you’re going through and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I’m not ashamed of what I’ve been through because it’s part of my story—and my story is part of God’s big one.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jer. 29:11